The Clarence of 2012 is a growing suburb trying to balance its rural character with the pressures of new development.
The new book “Clarence,” part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, allows readers to glimpse the town as it looked as far back as the late 19th century. The landscape is dotted with horse-drawn carriages, one-room schoolhouses and farmers toiling in fields with rudimentary equipment.
The 126-page book is packed with black-and-white photographs spanning the decades. Its co-authors, C. Douglas Kohler and Julianna L. Woite, put the images into context with descriptions of the residents’ everyday life, attire and homes.
Kohler, a Clarence resident, history teacher and county historian, said he was eager to revisit the topic of the county’s oldest town after publishing four Clarence-themed books around the time of the town’s bicentennial several years ago.
As they worked on the new book, Kohler and Woite invited people to bring in old photos for scanning and possible inclusion. Those outside contributions proved useful.
“It’s absolutely the best part of the book,” said Woite, an author and editor of the Clarence Historical Society newsletter. “It gives the book its character.”
One person brought in a large photo album containing an image of a woman dressed in mourning clothes that Woite found striking. The “Clarence” book uses the image to explain the strict Victorian-era rules of how a widow was to mourn, what she was to wear and for how long she was to wear it.
“I think one of things we tried to find were the larger interpretive pieces,” Kohler said. “Not just ‘This is A.G. Eshelman standing in front of the store’ but the train and how that factored into being a businessman at the time connected you to the outside world.”
Pictures in the book show churches, emerging factories, schools and stores that have vanished, and early 19th-century automobiles on dusty roads. There are also stories and photos of famous residents such as Wilson Greatbatch.
“We really strove very hard to come up with images that people had not seen,” Kohler said. “There are some iconic images that people expect to see in any history of Clarence, so they’re there. But there’s a lot of things people have never seen before because they come from collections that we’ve never had access to.”
One such example: In the background of a photo of a child posing next to a birthday cake is a structure known as the Rhodes barn.
“This barn back here existed as a house [later on], but we had never seen an image of it when it was still a Pennsylvania Dutch bank barn,” Kohler said.
While much has changed over the years – old pictures of Transit Road at Main Street and of Clarence Hollow are especially striking for their contrast to modern day – some places shown in images, such as the Four Corners in Clarence Center, are quickly recognizable, even across the decades.
Kohler said he believes “Clarence” will have appeal beyond people with ties to the town.
“There are great similarities between the communities, and I think books like this help us highlight not just our community, but how we as a region share a very similar experience historically.”
The book retails for $21.99. Both co-authors will sign books from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 8 at the Clarence Historical Society Museum.